Georgia appeals to West over Russian bases

Georgia appeals to West over Russian bases

6 Mar, 06:46 PM

Georgia's defence minister appealed to the West to halt what he said was a continuing Russian military buildup in two breakaway Georgian regions, adding that a fresh Russian attack "cannot be ruled out," Reuters reports.

The Kremlin recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states in the wake of last year's five-day war between Russia and Georgia, when Moscow smashed a Georgian assault on South Ossetia.

Defense Minister David Sikharulidze told Reuters in an interview late on Monday that Russia's war aim had been "regime change," but it had failed. Moscow's continued military buildup in the absence of international monitoring meant the situation "remains fragile," he said.

The minister quoted by Reuters said Tbilisi had observed activity at the site of a proposed Russian naval base in the breakaway Black Sea territory of Abkhazia and understood that a Soviet-era military base near the Abkhaz resort town of Gudauta was "fully operational" and under Russian control.

Moscow is keen to re-establish its military influence in strategic former Soviet territories but the EU and the US have said any new Russian bases in the breakaway regions would violate a cease-fire accord which ended last year's war.

"Both the European Union and United States made their position very clear with regard to these activities. If this political pressure continues, it would play an important role in ... stopping the Russians doing what they are doing," Sikharulidze told Reuters.

"The security environment is a concern. This represents a danger not only for Georgia but for the entire region."

Asked later if new conflict was possible, he replied:

"Our mission is to be ready to resist if the Russians decide to attack Georgia, major cities or vital links of communications again. Our understanding is that this cannot be ruled out."

Abkhazia's separatist authorities say they plan to sign a military treaty with Russia within months, allowing Moscow to establish a naval base at Ochamchire – near the de facto border with Georgia – and an air base in Gudauta, Reuters adds.

Tags: Georgia, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, military bases